Address by Nelson Mandela at opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy

2 January 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen

My staff usually make me say that although I am retired the occasion that I am attending is one of such importance that I had to make an exception. Today I can truly say that out of my own accord. I have been resting in Maputo, but really found it necessar y to be at this occasion to pay tribute to Oprah Winfrey for what she has personally done to make this project possible and see it to its fruition.

On one of Oprah's previous visits to South Africa we related to Oprah what the South African business community as well as some international companies were doing to enrich our youth by contributing to the building and improvement of schools and other educ ational facilities. We shared our conviction with Oprah that the gains of our democracy would be nullified if we did not properly educate our children and youth. She obviously recognised the potential in our youth and consulted with our then Minister of Ed ucation, Professor Kader Asmal, about the establishment of the school whose opening we are celebrating today.

It is estimated that she spent some 200 million rand on the school. This is unprecedented in South Africa and we should thank her for providing these young girls with not only specialized education but life skills that will ensure that they become the best in whatever they choose to do with their lives. We hope that the school will become the dream of every young South African girl and that they will study hard, aiming at qualifying for the school one day. Oprah has shown us that no matter what your backgro und, how impoverished or underprivileged you were, you can become anything in life if you work and study hard.

Oprah, apart from the unbelievable amount of money you have invested in this project, it is the personal effort and time that you have put into it that is so special and inspiring. This is not a distant donation you made but a project which clearly lies ve ry close to your heart. South Africans should not only be grateful to you but should take a lesson from you about what personal commitment means.

It can be said that there are four basic and primary things that the mass of people in a society wish for: to live in a safe environment, to be able to work and provide for themselves, to have access to good public health and to have sound educational oppo rtunities for their children. Currently we as a society may be struggling in each of those four areas, but we must remain confident that with the personal commitment of each and every one of us we can and will overcome the obstacles towards development. Op rah has in her own magnificent way shown us what commitment means.

We salute you as a friend and a role model. South Africa is proud of its association with you. You have given so much of yourself to our society over the years.

I am sure everyone joins us in wishing this school, its students, teachers and staff well. May it grow into one the shining stars on our educational firmament. I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation